Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Red Rock Browns?

An article in the current issue of Southwest Fly Fishing magazine really caught my attention. The article is a full-length, destination feature about fly fishing on Lower Oak Creek in Arizona. I've spent a ton of time on Oak Creek, but only on the upper reaches where a quality trout fishery exists.

I've spent very little time exploring Oak Creek downstream of Sedona...or even downstream from Grasshopper Point for that matter. The reason for this is simply that as the stream moves downstream of these locations it transitions into a warm water fishery.

As I expected, the article discussed the smallmouth bass fishery of Lower Oak Creek. What I didn't expect was the article's declaration that this portion of the creek (from Cornville to Sedona) holds, "A surprising number of streamer chasing browns". Hmm. I don't have the article in front of me at the moment, but I seem to remember it even thew out a mention of the author catching 5lb trout here every year!

A few years ago I was told by a local fisheries biologist that a self sustaining population of browns used to exist in Oak Creek as far downstream as Red Rock Crossing, but that a variety of factors (drought, canopy loss, sedimentation, etc.) had combined to make the lower portion of the creek inhospitable to trout. He went on to tell me that the downstream terminus of wild (stream born) trout habitat on Oak Creek these days is Grasshopper Point...give or take a couple of miles depending on water conditions from year to year.

An interesting part of the Lower Oak Creek trout equation is Page Springs. This is a large (24 cfs), 68 degree spring that enters the creek well downstream of Sedona. The spring provides the water source for Page Springs Fish Hatchery. At 68 degrees, the spring's water temperature is right at the upper temperature threshold for trout, but is certainly within it. The hatchery cranks out upwards of 700,000 trout per year (mostly rainbows), making it Arizona's largest cold water hatchery.

Yesterday I was traveling from Flagstaff to Phoenix and just happened to have a fly rod and streamer box in the truck. A short detour found me driving along Page Springs Road as it followed the twists and turns of Oak Creek. Due to the infusion of cool water from the spring, I figured that this was as good a place as any to look for browns on Lower Oak Creek. Long story short, I never wet a line. Access was practically non-existent between Page Springs and Cornville - and what's more, the water was running off color from recent rain.

The mystery remains. I'd love to hear if anyone out there has caught a brown from Oak Creek, below Sedona, within the last 10 years - in case you can't tell, I'm highly skeptical.


  1. check out these this address Will.


    not sure if they were below Sedona or not.

  2. Did you see pics of the big brown caught by a kid in Sedona a few years back? Every now and then you hear of one turning up in the bigger holes through town. Below town I've not heard of anyone catching browns...as you mentioned it warms considerably in the summer. I did read the article...makes you wonder whether the author has fished the creek or not.

  3. Big - Thanks for the link. I suspect that those pictures on The Fly Fishing Broker's site are above Sedona.

    Thomas - I do seem to remember seeing pictures of a big brown caught in Sedona a while back...the fish had an enormous head compared to its body if I recall. I'm sure there are some spring holes where a few browns persist further downstream, but I just can't imagine any notable population of browns surviving down low.


  4. Will,

    I was wondering if you might post an entry on the recent article regarding lower Oak Creek--I read the article myself, and was also surprised to hear mention of a good number of Browns in the stretch between Page Springs and Cornville. I had actually been thinking of heading down in that direction anyway before the article came out, and have fished a couple stretches down there since then, in the past month--no Browns, at least not for me, and the more telling sign was that I did not spot a single redd, which always provides a sure sign of a healthy, self-sustaining population. All the same, I could imagine scattered fish persisting in that stretch, but as you said, it is hard to imagine a thriving population...

    Check your PM on the AZflyandtie site when you get the time, I've been meaning to update you on a few trips I made this fall...

    Tight lines, Iain

  5. I think that guy was just writing to fill up space.
    I've fished page springs three or four times and only caught one smallmouth about 10 inches long. I usually stop there just to see the hatchery. And why fish lower Oak creek when upper Oak Creek is as good as it is???
    That article was interesting, but i'm afraid not true

  6. The article was interesting to say the least, but I don't know if it convinced me enough to make a visit there. My limited experience below the upper section has not proven positive and with so many other quality streams in the mountains, I would rather spend my budgeted time somewhere else. I enjoyed reading your take and everyone else's though. Thanks for sharing.


  7. Agreed, there's no doubt that the upper stretch is where it's at. But upon reading the article I was really intrigued by the possibility of browns existing around Page Springs. The article's claims were the first I'd ever heard of that! I'm not about to dismiss the article as inaccurate until I've fished this portion of the creek in search of trout a few times myself. I'd also be very curious to see some water temperature statistics for this portion of the creek, in July and August. Even with the influence of Page Springs, I suspect the water climbs way up into the 70's during summer. My hope that a brown trout fishery actually exists on Lower Oak Creek rests entirely upon the assumption that the author of this article wouldn't be so reckless as to report on a fictitious wild trout fishery.